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Finding the Path Back

Dear Philippa,

What do you do when you are at your loneliest time ever but still getting over the loss of a loved one? My husband died and although I am missing him I still don't want to be alone. Is it unfair to expect anybody would want my company right now?

�Lilly, Eugene, OR


Dear Lilly,

At the time I received your question another letter arrived from a man asking how to start over after his long marriage had ended. Clearly becoming widowed and divorced are very different situations but both are major life traumas that have to do with loss.

Everyone grieves the passing of a loved one or the end of a relationship in their own way and time. Some prefer to heal their hurt by being alone or in the company of close friends and family. Others, like you and the other letter writer, would prefer to seek companionship as they recover from their loss.

This isn't simply a matter of how to get back into the dating scene after a long time. I want you to be able to protect yourself while you start dating at this vulnerable stage in life. The question is what kind of companionship do you need right now? There is a tendency when we are very lonely and dealing with major emotional pain to hurry into the wrong relationships to take us away from the feelings of loss or rejection. That's when we can catch what I call "rebounditis". Rebounditis is tumbling into an intense relationship that seems to take you away from all the hurt. The only trouble is you are not ready for another relationship because you haven't had time to put your recent loss to rest. When you eventually come up for air and face this fact the other person may get hurt.

There are people who find vulnerability in others appealing because it gives them a sense of purpose to be there for you. Someone like this can be the perfect temporary bridge you need at this stage because they can provide the focused nurturing you need. Just remember that when you start feeling stronger and want a more equal relationship, this kind of person may choose to move on and find someone else who needs help. Seen for just what it is, a comfortable yet temporary resting-place, this kind of relationship may be just what you need right now.

People always come into our lives for a reason and you want to make sure that the people that come into your life when you are recovering from a loss are going to be good for you. While life has no guarantees, we do tend to get what we expect. So even before you set a foot out the door or pick up a phone to make contact with others, start by getting your thoughts to move in a more positive direction. That means believing that there are good people out there who can relate to your situation and want to spend time with you.

Last year a friend of mine was going through a painful divorce after a 20-year marriage ended. Using the Internet she met a recently widowed man and they dated for about six months. While the relationship did not last for a long time, it did provide a mutually healing experience for both of them while they were both going through some tough transitions. She specifically chose someone who was going through a major loss like she was. In this way they became each other's support group as well as delightful companions.

It's natural under the circumstances that you will want to talk about your late husband. This kind of sharing is all part of companionship. People who have been through a major loss understand what you are going through. For this reason I think it's good idea to seek out a support group.

A support group can act as a safety valve by providing people with whom you can really open up and heal while you are establishing relationships elsewhere. This way you won't be afraid that you will drive away someone you have just started dating by talking too much about your loss. And, you may even develop a relationship with someone from the support group. Many religious organizations and hospitals host support groups for both the widowed and divorced. These support groups are also often listed in local newspapers.

Just because you are divorced or widowed doesn't change the core person you are. All the great qualities that make you appealing to others are still there. You are not your loss. Just like the other letter writer is simply a great guy who happens to be recently divorced, he is not his divorce. Think of your loss as a separate entity that needs care and compassion, but does not define who you are.

Getting out again when you are not used to doing things on your own gets more difficult the longer you postpone action. To make this transition easier focus on activities that have always given you pleasure. If you love music take yourself out to an informal afternoon concert at a college or a jam session at a coffeehouse. If books are your passion, author lectures at bookstores are a no-cost way to get out amongst book lovers like yourself. You don't need to focus on trying to meet anyone. As you become more relaxed about being out amongst people and lose yourself in the enjoyment of the activity, your confidence and attractiveness will increase. Eventually you will feel ready to join clubs, attend singles events and focus on meeting the kinds of people you like.

Getting out and dating again after a major loss is like getting back into shape after you have been on the sidelines for quite a while. You can't expect to run a marathon the first day out. You also need to build your emotional muscles slowly. Take small steps and allow yourself time to gain confidence in yourself and make peace with the past.

Remember, even at a time when you feel the loneliest, you are healing and there is a strong part of you coming back to life. Know that you are healing. Be kind to yourself. I know from my own experience with loss that you may think that while you are hurting this much no one would want to be around you. That is a misconception. Realize your vulnerability makes you more open, more human and therefore more approachable.


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